by Jennifer BurckeIt’s moving day here at 1840 Farm. No, not for the humans or even the miniature schnauzer. The chickens are on the move. That’s right, our little chicken babies are all grown up. Well, maybe not all grown up, but they’re ready to take a giant leap in that direction.
They arrived here seven weeks ago today in a tiny cardboard box. The box was so small that I couldn’t imagine that eight chicks could possibly fit inside. When I cut the tape away and opened the end just enough to peek inside, I could see that all eight of them were indeed inside with room to spare. They were so small and helpless during the first few days. We checked on them 4 or 5 times a day while they moved around in their small brooder box and learned to eat and drink and explore.
One of the Australorp chicks didn’t make it through the first week. She was weak and inactive compared to the rest of the flock. I checked on her every few hours and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t seem to help. When I picked her up, she didn’t have the strength to open her eyes. I fed her with an eyedropper to try to help her gain some strength. I checked to make sure that she wasn’t “pasting up”. I searched the Internet to determine if there was anything that I might be able to do. In the end, I had to let nature take its course, which it did in short order.
We had prepared for the fact that all eight chicks might not make it, but it didn’t make it any easier to accept. We took a deep breath and hoped that the rest of the chicks would survive. We made a family decision that we wouldn’t name the chicks until they were old enough to move to their permanent home in our new coop. Burying “chick” in the pasture is a little less upsetting than burying your chicken pal “Lucy”, especially when you have to try and explain it to your four year-old.
They didn’t just survive, they flourished. They grew by leaps and bounds every day until they had to be moved to a brooder box that was twice the size of the original one. They started to develop their own personalities. I started to understand where the expression “pecking order” came from.
The largest chick became the leader within a few short weeks. She is a beautifully marked Barred Plymouth Rock. We broke our own rule and named her “Bertha”. Somehow it just seemed right. She took her post very seriously and never seemed to let her guard down. While the others were relaxing near the feeder, she stayed on high alert just in case danger presented itself. While the six chicks moved around the brooder exploring, she kept them together by circling around the perimeter like some short of avian sheepdog. She was definitely our alpha female. No doubt about it.
We continued to work on their coop while they continued their evolution from fluffy baby chicks to fine feathered chickens. They were proud of their new plumage and strutted around their brooder to show off every time we came to check in on them. There was only one problem. The chicks were growing faster than we could finish their coop. As first time chicken keepers, we hadn’t counted on that.
Then a potential chicken keeping disaster struck. Along came a preplanned short two-night family trip away from home. We had finished the coop a few days before our scheduled departure, but didn’t want our girls to be in a new place for the first time while we were away from home. We also didn’t want to invest money in a chicken apartment when the coop was ready for its new flock to move in as soon as we returned. We were going to have to get creative.
We took a careful inventory of our barn and came up with a solution. We would move the 4′ x 8′ dog pen into the garage and outfit it as a chicken condo. We slid the pen into the garage, filled the bottom with pine shavings, and hung the feeder and waterer. We used carpentry clamps to hold the perches steady. We covered the top with a painter’s tarp.We had created a nice little vacation home for our flock and hadn’t spent a dime. We took a step back and complimented ourselves on a job well done. All that was left to do was to move the chicks into their new digs. So we did. It took about 15 seconds for one of them to walk right out through the gap in the chain link fence. So much for basking in the pride of a job well done. Back to the drawing board.
It was time for me to learn another expression. Necessity really is the mother of invention. It had never seemed more clear to me than when I stood in the barn looking for something, anything that I could use to keep our flock from going AWOL. Then inspiration hit me full in the face in the form of a stack of window screens that had been put away for the winter. The screens turned out to be the perfect solution to our problem. They allowed us to keep the chickens in the pen without restricting the airflow and without costing a penny.
The chickens spent another two weeks in their dog pen condo before the big day of the move. We started moving their food, water, and grit and they started to wonder what we were up to. When we took away the heat lamp, they began to question the purity of our intentions. They began to nervously pace around their pen investigating the previous location of their food. They walked over to the coveted spot below the now missing heat lamp and looked up curiously to the spot where it had hung only minutes before. They were clearly on edge. Bertha began loudly protesting our activities. She was not happy and clearly wanted us to know about it.
Time was up. We needed to make the move and let them settle in. So, we moved them one by one into the new coop. I placed each one down and returned for the next until only one remained. After they had all been moved, they settled in. They began to investigate a new home yet again. In their very short lives, they had endured a lot of change. They had moved for the fifth, and hopefully, last time.
For the second time, we stepped back and admired all of our hard work. This time, the chickens stayed put. Now we could take a moment and relax, safe in the knowledge that our chickens were now happy inside their new coop.The pressure was off our shoulders and resting directly on the winged shoulders of our feathered flock. In a few months, they would be hard at work providing 1840 Farm with fresh, organic eggs. Until then, they would be hard at work surviving the winter. After all, we live in New England. Surviving winter here can be a full-time job.